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Anecdotal Evidence is Still Evidence

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Panning it out

I had a refreshing meeting with a corporate executive recently. It was refreshing for many reasons. He was totally and completely honest. He shared how tough getting his teams aligned could be. He also shared their vision for a more customer-centric organization. This meant shifting the internal culture to be less about the macro data and more about the individual customer.

It’s easy to ignore those little observations or nagging concerns from individual customers when your boss only looks at the customer satisfaction rate or Net Promoter Score (NPS). Those one-off comments can be easy to categorize under the “not significant data” section of our brains. But there’s gold in those verbatims.

When customers tell you comments like “I wanted this to work this way, but it didn’t,” they are sharing insights into future wants and needs. They are sharing what a competitor might already be working on. They are providing a look into a crystal ball!

Don’t ignore the flecks in search of nuggets

Back to this executive. He mentioned how they made a decision a while ago to REALLY look at each verbatim comment in their customer management software. Each complaint or compliment attached to those surveys ranking the customer experience 1 – 10 was shared with the team responsible. So every DAY they sent out the latest customer satisfaction numbers and NPS reports, but better yet they sent the specific commentary to the responsible teams.

Not too surprisingly, this led to better management, which led to better customer experiences. The fact is – you can’t get a high customer satisfaction rate or NPS Score if you ignore the verbatim comments customers are providing.

The mother lode awaits upstream

Just think of some of the bigger customer experience snafus that could be avoided if the companies involved could have just read the verbatim comments a little more carefully.  For instance: Now that we know mobile is growing in usage, companies are jumping on the bandwagon to create mobile optimized sites and trying to crack the code on mobile conversions. And yet it wasn’t that long ago that many leaders were declaring there wasn’t enough data to really focus on mobile. How many customers, trying their darndest to interact via mobile, left comments on surveys about wanting more via mobile? I would bet many did, and most just didn’t have a way to provide that feedback to the company.

Verbatim comments and customer anecdotes can provide early warning signals for upcoming disasters. Watching for patterns in the emotional intensity of these comments can provide insights otherwise misplaced. If one angry customer provides a comment full of rows of exclamation points and ALL CAPS, that’s easy to attribute to one bad attitude. If ten customers are shouting in their comments about similar issues, you best pay attention.

Gold bars are cast from many crumbs

Data is awesome and totally valuable. But if data is collected to prove what common sense can already tell us, understanding and sharing the verbatims, anecdotes and comments from customers can be the early insight we all want.

Sharing is the most important piece of all this. If customer feedback languishes on some executive dashboard, it is no better than a fleck of gold thrown out with the sand. Sharing this critical feedback can provide so much more direction than just tracking numbers on a spreadsheet.

Sensei Debates

Many will say anecdotes don’t matter and should never sway the reviewer. But I wholeheartedly stand by the fact that customer anecdotes and comments should be seen as the valuable source of information they are. Do you agree? Can such data be truly measurable? Actionable?

Image Credit: SpecMode via Creative Commons

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3 comments
JoeCascio
JoeCascio 5pts

When I read the tease for this on Twitter, I thought it was about anecdotal vs controlled experiment data in science and medicine. I was all prepared to let loose a rant about how anecdotes can never be conclusive. But I think in issues of customer sentiment and satisfaction, anecdotes are all you have and they are very valuable, esp if related indirectly. That is, when the customer doesn't think they're talking to a company rep. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin 5pts

Love the post Jeannie - especially this: "Data is awesome and totally valuable. But if data is collected to prove what common sense can already tell us, understanding and sharing the verbatims, anecdotes and comments from customers can be the early insight we all."

Great customer service teams don't take anything as anecdotal - they take each issue as seriously as a BIG issue, and they work constantly to provide better service.  It matters more than data.

jeanniecw
jeanniecw 5pts

@AmyMccTobin I agree, Amy, but I also understand that it's easy to follow red herrings when the resident loudmouth makes a big deal out of nothing. It's definitely a balance of understanding what anecdotal evidence can lead to and how big data revelations can actually lead to tiny insights that matter. Tricky, tricky! 

Trackbacks

  1. […] written by your customers. You can do this by searching on social media or reviewing the latest verbatims on your surveys. But don’t make it about anything else. Don’t set a goal to find a […]

  2. […] of the small things. They say things like “one comment isn’t going to hurt us” or “anecdotes are mostly irrelevant.” Big data is definitely useful in guiding the big decisions, but please do […]

  3. […] small things. They say things like “one comment isn’t going to hurt us” or “anecdotes are mostly irrelevant.” Big data is definitely useful in guiding the big decisions, but […]


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